Chinese Religion and Philosophy
Chinese Religion: Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism and more
Chinese religion and Chinese philosophy are very appropriate terms, because Chinese beliefs have always been Chinese more than they have been part of any one religion or philosophy.
Traditional Chinese religion blended the ‘three great teachings’ of Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism with even older local religious beliefs. A typical individual might not adhere rigidly to any one school, but take a pragmatic approach, picking and choosing elements and practices from each of the three strands.
Chinese Religion – Blending Philosophies
Indeed, the founders of each of the three main philosophies were deified and worshipped equally. It is perhaps this ability to blend and balance that is the core of Chinese religion and philosophy, rather than any one set of beliefs.
This aspect will no doubt continue to be seen in the future as older beliefs adjust, and absorb the new ethos of capitalism and the growing influence of Christianity and Islam.
Chinese Religion – Modern Society
Modern Chinese appear at first sight to have forgotten about religion and philosophy in the drive to get rich quick. Most of the traditional centres of religion – Confucian, Buddhist and Daoist temples, have either disappeared or turned into tourist attractions.
Most Chinese are quite uninterested in philosophy and questions of hell and the afterlife, instead focusing on questions directly in front of them – how to create a stable society and how to get ahead in life.
This is perhaps unsurprising when you consider that the CCP has spent most of the past 50 years telling people that religion is mumbo-jumbo superstition and trying to supplant traditional beliefs with a philosophy combining Socialism and a great deal of patriotism.
Chinese Religion – Down but not out
It should not be assume, however, that all traditional forms of religion are dead. Confucianism, long derided by the Communists, never really went away.
Even though many Chinese view Confucian beliefs as archaic, Confucian thought clearly underlines many typical Chinese thought patterns. Ironically, Confucius might well have grudgingly approved of the patriarchal form of government that the CCP is trying to become.
More overtly religious beliefs are live and well too – just visit a temple on Guanyin’s birthday, or a graveyard at Qingming Jie to find out.
Chinese Religion – Capitalism, Christianity and Islam
The government’s switch to ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’ (code for naked capitalism, without the loss of face that dropping the socialist rhetoric would imply) has left a religious and spiritual vacuum that has yet to be filled.
Government statistics indicate that Islam may be the most widely practised religion in China today with upwards of 15 million adherents, probably many more (mostly among ethnic minorities).
Christianity is next with around 7 million believers. The position of Buddhism is interesting – there are no official figures. Many Chinese visit Buddhist temples but few would claim to be Buddhist.
Chinese Religion – belief in Chinese-ness
It is interesting to note the historical tendency of Chinese to absorb and adapt foreign religions and cultures. China has often been invaded or subjugated, but always manage to hold onto its own set of beliefs.
This is the main reason why Chinese can claim to have inherited a 5,000 year old civilisation, and contributes to their own self belief and feeling of superiority, even when they’re at their weakest.
Even Socialism, which can arguably be seen as a foreign influence, has now been ‘Chineseified’ into ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’.
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What to see and do around Beijing
Wonder at the Great Wall, be awed by the magnificent Forbidden City, drink in the scenery from a boat on the Summer Palace’s Kunming Lake.